Flexography is often considered a sort of industrialised version of letterpress printing, and capable of producing only rudimentary quality. But that hasn’t been true for years. Flexographic printing has evolved considerably over the last few decades and has been quietly stealing market share from gravure, offset and even digital printing applications. Flexo printers produce the largest share of print used for packaging applications today and that includes flexible packaging, corrugated and labels. Thanks to advances in materials and imaging this printing method has also become increasingly sustainable over the years.
Flexography’s biggest environmental impact advances are down to improved plate processing, which has seen reductions in the amounts of solvents used, and the use of less hazardous ones as well. Water is increasingly used for flexo plate processing and several companies offer aqueous flexo plate making technology including Asahi, Dupont, Esko and Miraclon. Plate imaging techniques have evolved to be much more efficient in terms of speed and energy usage. Improvements have increased uptimes for flexo presses so they can deliver more throughput. Because these presses don’t need to be cleaned so often and perform more consistently, waste is also much reduced. Better plates and improved press control systems help the press come up to colour more efficiently, and this also cuts waste. Overall environmental impact per functional unit is much lower than it used to be.
Kodak, who invented the foundations of aqueous plate processing in 1948, has done terrific work in this area. Its Flexcel technology has been having a significant impact on the flexo market since its introduction in 2008. Kodak Flexcel now resides with Miraclon and this company was recently recognised for its achievements as it takes Kodak Flexcel forwards. The FTA Technical Innovation Award has been awarded to Miraclon for the Kodak Flexcel NX Ultra Solution. This prize is given to technologies with the potential to “positively change the future of flexography” according to Joe Tuccitto, Director of Education at the FTA. Miraclon also won an FTA award for its Kodak Ultra Clean Technology which makes it possible to prepare a press-ready plate in less than an hour. This saves energy and time as well as needing less maintenance overall.
Perceptions that flexo is bad for the environment and produces grubby output are changing and rising numbers of print buyers embrace this print method. Flexographic printing is gaining in terms of market share and applications, especially within the packaging and labels sector. Any steps that improve production technologies’ environmental impact are to be welcomed. That they get recognised is an added bonus.
– Laurel Brunner
This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, Fujifilm, HP, Kodak, Miraclon, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.